Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. Is it particularly beneficial, do you think, to those sorts of pupils at that age who have not, as you say they should have, acquired these basic skills?
  (Mr Tomlinson) The schools are using it for cohorts of pupils for whom the full national curriculum is not seen as the most appropriate experience and they therefore are getting a certain part of it disapplied to enable them to take roughly about 20 per cent of the curriculum time to occupy the work-related courses. That is what is happening in a number of schools. And increasing numbers of schools would wish to do this.

  Chairman: Thank you for that point. We will move on now to pupil behaviour.

Charlotte Atkins

  61. Have you seen improvements in pupil behaviour, either at the primary or early secondary level, over the last three or four years?
  (Mr Tomlinson) We were seeing improvements up to 1999-2000. On the evidence coming from inspections from 1993-94 onwards behaviour was steadily—not dramatically, but steadily—improving. The preface to saying that, of course, is that the vast majority of our schools are orderly establishments where people respect each other and people respect property. I think we must not get it out of context. But for this year 1999-2000 was the first time that inspectors had reported an increase in the proportion of secondary schools where behaviour was less than satisfactory. It was largely centred upon latter stages of Key Stage 3; that is, round about pupils of 13 or 14.

  62. Do you see a differential between those schools that have a formal behaviour policy, which is taken on board by pupils, parents, governors, teachers and, more importantly or just as importantly, classroom assistants and also lunchtime supervisors right the way through the school? Have you done any work on schools which have introduced a behaviour policy which is an all-school behaviour policy?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes. Last month we published a report on improving attendance and behaviour in secondary schools which was a report that looked in detail at ten schools where exclusions and behaviour-related issues were a major concern. This was a follow-up to the Social Exclusion Unit's request to us. We also included a further 80 schools that we visited. So the report details what was happening in those schools. Essentially, a number of features were found to be effective. One was—and above all else—a clearly understood policy with regard to behaviour, and understood not just by the pupils but understood and supported by the parents. The parents play a crucial part in this. Where that policy was consistently applied at all times by all staff, whether temporary staff or permanent staff, then behaviour was improved, exclusions fell and, not surprisingly, the achievements of pupils rose. One of the surprising things we found was that it was rarely the case in schools that data on absence and behaviour was seen to have a direct link to attainment, and talking to parents and children about "If this continues it will have the following effect . . . It is there for you to see" has a considerable effect. That was one thing, the whole issue of tackling absence, authorised or unauthorised, very speedily: first morning response, or schools, for example, that gave pagers to parents whose children were not regular attenders where the parents had with all honesty sent their children off to school expecting them to arrive—the parent getting a pager ring saying, "You are going to have to contact the school," they know what they are going to have to contact them for. That relationship then between school, parent and pupil was beginning to have an effect as well.

  63. One of my own schools Biddulph High had truancy busting award quite recently and I was impressed by the work they have done in terms of stopping parents collaborating, if you want, with pupils over absences.
  (Mr Tomlinson) Yes.

  64. When you inspect schools, obviously I know you look very closely at attendance, have you got to the bottom of those schools that really do not challenge parents about the collaboration they have with their pupils staying off school? We heard some amazing stories, "We had to buy a hamster", whatever, and the whole family had to be off to choose this particular hamster. Does OFSTED look carefully at the issue of parent involvement in pupil absence?
  (Mr Tomlinson) We have not looked in detail at the various reasons. I certainly think that we should give greater focus than has been given today on authorised absence as distinct from unauthorised absence. Putting it into context, in one year there are six million days lost through unauthorised absence compared to one million through authorised.[1] The authorised is much more likely to be susceptible to the sort of strategies that some of the schools are using to reduce that figure. As I said before, if parents condone absence from school, if parents will not get their children to school on time and if they do not support the policies on behaviour within schools then the job for schools is doubly difficult. There is a parental responsibility here, which must be discharged in conjunction with the school.

  Mr Foster: Given that a lot of parents watch the proceedings of this Committee with interest and raise their awareness of what is meant by unsatisfactory behaviour, could you give examples of what it means that their children are getting up to in a classroom situation?


  65. Elizabeth has not had a chance to say a word yet.
  (Ms Passmore) There are different forms of inappropriate behaviour that disrupt the learning of pupils. Sometimes we see a rather low level disruption, where lots of pupils are chattering amongst themselves and as an inspector walking around you hear the conversations, which are nothing to do with what they ought to be. That does mean that during the course of the lesson not a great deal is being learned. That sort of misbehaviour ought to be able to be dealt with fairly effectively by the teacher. Where there are problems where teachers do find it difficult to control the pupils, where the head and the senior staff become involved, with good strategies those things can be dealt with fairly well. It is where you have a small group of pupils who come into the class who are quite deliberately determined that they nor anybody else is going to be allowed to learn; throwing things across the classroom; being rude to the teacher and threatening to other pupils; where that little prod in the back of the person is front of them if applied once it may just pass and not disrupt, but where it becomes continuous and where it becomes obviously the sort of thing that should not be going on; a refusal to do the work, some pupils sit there and will not do what they are asked to do; running in and out of the classroom. I remember one rather infamous occasion when we recorded a science lesson and we recorded the number on the roll with the number that should have been there and the average class size was seven, because at any one time there were seven pupils in the room, and they were never the same seven. In that particular school as you walked around the school there were pupils out of class, running round and misbehaving all of the time. The scale is very wide, from that very low level to the other extreme and, of course, on occasions, but very rarely when we are present, but we see it documented in subsequent exclusion data, where pupils do, in fact, become verbally and physically abusive to teachers.

  66. Unless there are other questions I would rather like to be move on to some other topic.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I was just concerned that I made a mistake in terms of the figures that I gave, the large figure of six million was for authorised absence, unauthorised was one million. I think I got it the wrong way around. I wanted to say six million for authorised and one million for unauthorised.

  67. The Committee is very pleased about that.
  (Mr Tomlinson) My apologies to you all.
  (Mr Taylor) What we said in the Report is that almost nine out of ten absences from school are authorised absences on the record, just over one in ten are unauthorised. In nine tenths of all those cases the parents sign a chit to say that this pupil is going to be absent. That relates rather closely to common findings of research, which we also draw your attention to, up to 80 per cent of all pupils found by EWOs or the police, or whatever, in the town centre are accompanied by an adult, usually a parent, and are on a shopping spree rather than going to school. I am glad you are saying this is lesson to parents. We believe that we are trying to prise open what has been a bit of a secret garden, the assumption that unauthorised absence is something like the true picture. The real picture is that the vast proportion of authorised absence appears to be authorised without good reason.

  Chairman: Can we move on? There are some very interesting areas in your Report that we need to cover. I am going move now to Local Education Authorities. This has been a pretty traumatic period for many Local Education Authorities. I know from my own experience, although I am not a Member of Parliament for Leeds, it is close to my constituency and I know the feelings of my colleagues in terms of the ramifications of OFSTED there.

Dr Harris

  68. The statement, "Successful schools can manage their own destiny, I do not think the LEA is needed in those cases". Would you agree with that statement?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I will start from a slightly different position, if I might. There are a number of tasks which need to be done in order to enable any school system to operate effectively. Some of those tasks, such as, for example, the whole issue of ensuring there are sufficient places for pupils, ensuring that pupils who are not given a place in a particular school have provision made for them, particularly if they are being excluded from school, or have special needs, and so on. There is the whole issue of transport. There are a number of tasks which in my discussions with head teachers they would not wish to see taken on by themselves as individual schools. There are those schools, of course, however, who are not capable of supporting themselves at a particular point, for all sorts of reasons. I am pointing here to schools that need special measures, by definition they do need some external support. There are, therefore, tasks which need to be done on behalf of the school, whether you have that body called the Local Education Authority or something else it is really not something which I feel I want to debate. The fact is, I do see there are tasks which need to be done which would not be appropriately done by the individual school and, therefore, there is a need for some layer in between, and that is currently called the Local Education Authority.

  69. I understand what you are saying. Assuming that the Local Education Authority has this—I cannot think of any other body that would have this—accountability that comes from a locally democratically elected members, I know that is not your direct responsibility, but can you see the point of having that for the local planning of schools, that local democratic accountable structure?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I am trying to avoid getting drawn into an area which is not my territory at all. My view would be that after LEAs inspections clearly local elected members can be an enormous support to the provision of an effective Local Education Authority and services to school. They can also be a considerable contributor to the failure of those services to provide for the schools as well.

Mr Foster

  70. You say in your section of LEA support that support for school improvement is unsatisfactory in one third of the LEAs you inspect. You also particularly highlight the failure of LEAs in respect of schools with serious weaknesses. Your report is pretty lukewarm towards the Education Action Zones which you inspected. Does this suggest that there is a wide range of initiatives to come forward to try and improve the schools which are not delivering the goods? What lessons from your evidence do you look at?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not think I can jump to the conclusions that you have just made. Certainly we have identified those local authorities where support for school improvement is not good enough. I think if you read the full Report you will see that it covers a wide range of services which the authorities provide, for example, for schools to improve they need to be able to rely on efficient services that span from personnel, through to finance, through to the speed at which young people are stable. All of those contribute to the support that is necessary for school improvement. It is a wide range of services. In one third they are not good enough. We have serious concerns that so many schools who are faced with serious weaknesses subsequently fall back within two years and put in special measures. That is running at a very high proportion and is a grave worry for us. That is one group of schools which in the actual code and the circular are the direct responsibility for local authorities to support and move out of that situation. That does worry us greatly. In terms of the EAZs, apart from the report recently published, a summary of the first six, I think what we are saying there is that after some early difficulties within those six by the time they are into their second year there are signs of improvement, most notably in the primary sector compared with the secondary. They did have some difficulties to begin with, but a lot of those are now being overcome. There are early signs. We have not yet seen what was hoped for, that is a marked significant impact on standards.

Mr St Aubyn

  71. Evidently you did give a very clean bill of health to Surrey as an education authority. More recently I thank you for the positive report that you gave to a school in my constituency, which Surrey decided they could not improve on their own so they went down a new strategy to do so. Does that experience suggest that however good the LEA there are areas where it would have weaknesses and the best thing you can do in that situation is to admit it has weaknesses and reach for new, radical solutions.
  (Mr Tomlinson) The first point is that it is not a new concept for local education authorities to work in partnership with private enterprise, it has been going on across a raft of services for a number of years. The advent of best value actually requires local authorities to ask the fundamental question, should we be providing this service, are we best placed to provide it, and so on? If they are asking those questions seriously then increasingly they will be looking at the option of whether we should do it or someone else should do it, or we should do it in conjunction with somebody else. I do not think that you can inevitably assume that it will be a success. If you read the Report on Westminster, which contracted out all of its service some years ago, the inspection report on that points out that whereas in some schools the service they received was better than they had previously, for others it was poorer. It has to be a very carefully thought out issue that is designed to benefit and will clearly benefit those that it is intended to. It is the danger of rushing into a simple, single "one size fits all" solution.


  72. It is not a panacea.
  (Mr Tomlinson) It is not a panacea. Every school and every circumstance is different, there is not a single solution to all those diverse compartments.

Mr St Aubyn

  73. We are all agreed with that. Is the message to be given out by OFSTED that LEAs should be more critical of their own performance in areas where they have weakness and not assume that they themselves can address that, and if they might be they should actively be considering an alternative to bring in somebody else?
  (Mr Tomlinson) I think that is right. Best value forces them to ask those questions.

  74. Your predecessor seemed to reject the notion of schools having their own back-up systems. Are you of the view that schools do benefit from having their own back-up systems, in terms of not just from the LEA but outside consultants and outside suppliers of services which might help create a more dynamic incentive?
  (Mr Tomlinson) If you go to a lot of secondary schools they are already operating very much in the sense of looking around for who provides in-service training and who provides this, that and the other. They are looking around and by doing all those things as they have got more confident they have been able to do that. Some local authorities are very active in providing schools with good information, that is often quality assured, about the product. Certain schools can be informed customers about whether they purchase the local authority service or whether they purchase the service from an alternative source. Some of the authorities are very active in that themselves. There are a variety of models.

  75. I should think that is an endorsement of Conservative policy, give the money to schools and let them decide how to spend it.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not think you can take it as that at all.

  Chairman: I can assure you that rest of the Committee do not share that.

Charlotte Atkins

  76. The area I want to focus on is the issue of ICT, which you focus on as being one of the main weaknesses of LEAs. Can you say a bit about that, please?
  (Mr Tomlinson) We report, as you say, it is a problem. It has been a problem of structures within local authorities that deliver the ICT requirements. We have been looking for detail through the very firmly focused inspections on the ICT strategy. In part the difficulty of the local education authorities is the extent to which they are allowed to use the funding on infrastructure requirements to enable them to deliver through to schools. Clearly some of them have made mistakes in the way they have gone about it. Some would argue, whether I accept it or not is another matter, that they were required to do this. The question of the capacity of local authorities is clear. It is also evident that we are coming to grips with an entirely new requirement.

  77. On occasions do you find that the lack of structure within LEAs and the lack of expertise within schools leads some LEAs to fall back on what has become almost a monopoly of computer hardware and probably, even more important, software to schools? Do you have evidence of that?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Not at the moment. I will check with colleagues. Some LEAs in the first instance invite private enterprise to come in and there is no evidence they have been more successful than the local authorities themselves. There are certainly some real concerns there. I do not have any evidence on that specific question.

  78. My concern is that schools feel that they are under pressure from LEAs to be locked into one particular supplier and when they then decide to invest in other types of equipment, unless they have a very skilled ICT supervisor, they are locked into the original company and their software to the detriment of the sort of things they might have done, especially something like design technology.
  (Mr Tomlinson) I do not have the evidence at hand. I will certainly ask my colleagues who are monitoring this to see what their concern is and I will let the clerk have a written response.

  Charlotte Atkins: If you could, because that is an area of concern to me.


  79. OFSTED had made many remarks about the quality of teachers and teaching levels, however you do not really say, and I was looking very carefully at this, much about the quality of the education officers. Are we getting good quality people and high quality people sufficient to really do the job? I know, from my experience, of superb education authority people right through the system, but are we getting that? Are we monitoring them? Are we checking that the right people are coming in with the right qualifications? If not, are they being retrained?
  (Mr Tomlinson) Although not in my annual report, that appeared in the report before that on local authorities.

1   See Q 66 below. Back

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